NEW YORK – Chelsea Conway came to America's No. 1 dog show in style last year. She brought her husband, and they enjoyed a Broadway show and a fancy dinner.
This time, no show and a trip to the deli. Oh, and her husband stayed home in Murietta, California.
"It's all changed," she said, petting her big Dogue de Bordeaux in a hotel lobby.
For sure: The sagging U.S. economy has taken a bite out of the Westminster Kennel Club event.
The show did not fill up its usual allotment of 2,500 entries in a single day, as usual. There were 2,486 (at $75 per dog) going into the start of judging Monday.
Tickets (from $40 to $155 for a single day) were moving a bit more slowly, too. Last February, Madison Square Garden was packed when a precocious beagle called Uno was picked as best in show.
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It's a trend that's been felt by sports all over. The Super Bowl was missing a lot of its usual buzz, and recent college football bowl games also felt the brunt of economic woes.
While some top owners might spend way more than $100,000 a year to fly their dogs first class, there are lots of smaller operations and people showing up on a budget.
Conway said she planned to take her dog Rolex to about 15 shows. In the past, she might've entered 30 or 40 events in a year. Her husband is remaining in Southern California to care for their other dogs.
"You have to watch your money," she said.
Her Dogue de Bordeaux, also known as a French mastiff, is the new contender among the 170 breeds and varieties at Westminster. Best in show judge Sari Tietjen will point to the champion Tuesday night — she often prefers little toy dogs, by the way.
Mark Grossnickle and teenage daughter Alyssa were in town from Greeley, Colorado, for the junior showmanship competition. In tow was their smiling golden retriever, Tazo.
This is their third trip to Westminster, a visit that usually included a nice dog-related banquet. But those tickets can cost $250, so Saturday night this time meant a change in plans.
"We'll probably go grab a burger," he said.
To Mike Arias, traveling up from Miami with his Akita named Raiden called for a decision. He was invited to the elite Eukanuba show in Long Beach, California, but passed.
"After this, I don't think I'll be showing out of state," he said.
"This is an expendable luxury sport for a lot of people," he said. "I can only imagine the economy is having an effect. I'll be interested to see how many people and dogs actually show up once we start."